Entomophagy – it’s an Edible Insect Thing!

A few years ago, the Agrifood  Technology Station was approached by a grower of insects that were used to produce animal feed. In this case, the request was to assist with producing food for human consumption using the insect. And immediately upon writing this, I know that the Yuck! factor kicks in ….. that feeling of nausea related to eating something so alien to western diets!!! But stop, think, use your scientific mind and slowly convince yourself of the normalcy of this and the many benefits attached to it. The Conversation had published an interesting article in this regard. Read it to help you make up your mind.

The internet abounds with this new trend regarding consuming insects – just type “entomophagy” into your search engine to find out more about the benefits of adopting this new cuisine. But, back to the approach made to ATS: we started tinkering with the larvae produce by the Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia illucens), keeping mind that this fly is not like your ordinary house fly. Click here to learn more about BSF. One of the biggest growers of the fly operates internationally but has its home base in Cape Town viz. Agriprotein Technologies. Unfortunately, the original larvae we used was grown using organic waste i.e. not an acceptable process for eventual use in human food. Recently, cockroach milk has become flavor of the day. Imagine that!

However, notwithstanding this, some products were developed by ATS (but not consumed) just to prove the point that it was usable. The Yuck! factor was not tested:-) Keeping in mind that there are quite a few insect-based ingredients, in powder form, being produced internationally and already being consumed in South Africa, it is expected that this aversion to insects will slowly wane over time. What was an African and Asian food tradition is slowly chipping away at the bastions of western Yuckiness!

Having identified insects as a potential sustainable food source, the management of the ATS and Department of Food Science & Technology (DFST) embraced this as a key strategic research area since it falls under the World Health Organisation Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), in particular SDG 2 “Zero Hunger”.

During the initial product development phase, the intention was to produce an upmarket product in the first instance (a tofu) which could be aimed at the higher LSM market. This meant that, even though the idea is to produce insect-based products as a source of cheap but high quality protein and fats, it would not go down well by doing so and then introducing it to the lower LSM market. The idea was to ensure that the concept is first appreciated and adopted higher up the feeding chain (bad pun) before introducing it elsewhere in the market.

During this process ATS was approached by a start-up called Gourmet Grubb who have by now really disrupted this area of research in the country – have you seen them on TV with their gelato? Led by a Masters’ student in Food Science, ATS assisted with their product development with funding from the Technology Innovation Agency. In essence, the Station acted on behalf of and also together with the company by accepting larvae and taking it through a process to produce Entomilk which in turn was used to produce the gelato. TIA is now looking to put further funding into expanding the project scope.

Now, part of the function of ATS is to connect industry to the research capacity offered by academics at CPUT and, more specifically, in the Department of Food Science & Technology. And so it arose that, at this point, there are three such projects in progress at the moment. The personnel involved are Mr. Vusi Mshayisa (Lecturer and PhD candidate), Ms. Bongisiwe Zozo (ATS Intern and Masters’ candidate) and Mr. Vuyisani Bistoli (ATS Technician and Masters’ candidate). They were fortunate enough to attend the first African conference on insects held in Zimbabwe in August 2019. Ms. Zozo won the prize for best poster while the oral presentation and poster of the two gentlemen respectively were very well-received by the audience. You can imagine the excitement and the pride attached to this type of reception. The two Supervisors of Ms. Zozo (Profs. Wicht and Van Wyk) were very supportive of the process. ATS itself sponsored Ms. Zozo and Mr. Bistoli while DFST sponsored Mr. Mhsayisa.

Presently, DFST is building the concept of insects as a food ingredient into its curriculum as a further boost toward eating goggas in the future. This research field is ripe for the plucking.

Here’s to future engagement and collaboration on this topic. Already, with Ms. Zozo being registered in the Department of Chemistry, a collaboration has been constituted.

Larry Dolley